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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Shaw - Blades

Influence

Review by Michael Bader

Influence is the second and latest release from Damn Yankees members, guitarist Tommy Shaw and bassist Jack Blades. Consider the hard hitting musical history of these musicians as key members of bands like Night Ranger and Styx. Ponder the persuasion of heavy metal guitarist Ted Nugent from the two Damn Yankees albums. Influence is a walk through the rose garden compared to their past hard rock minded works however, the CD essentially covers classic rock hits that music listeners will easily recognize from FM and AM radio play lists.

It appears that Jack and Tommy are taking well-deserved professional liberties with some great rock ballads by giving them a unique an untraditional spin. Serious rock n’ rollers, may look at this album as “one step backwards for man”, meanwhile the casual listener will consider this as a “huge step forward for mankind.”

In consequence, we are left wondering what could have been accomplished had either artist chosen to release some of their new music through this duet rather than reserve it for their more profitable ventures, namely the latest reincarnations of Styx and Night Ranger. The performances and production quality ensure this CD will receive multi-spins so if you are in the mood for or want to add a great accessible CD to your library, you will be pleased with this fine effort by Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Summer Breeze
This Seals & Crofts classic is performed with the guitar work front and center. The soft melodic keyboard parts that remind us of “jasmines” are instead played on the synthesized electric guitar. Jack Blades’ vocals are sound and mindful of the original. The duet’s harmonization sounds like Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts with a more solid rock undertone. Shaw’s upper range vocals and harmonization are a bit exposed in the middle of the song. This song sets the tone for the entire album.
Time of the Season
This “coming of age” song performed by the Zombie’s and written by Rod Argent contains the psychedelic and blues influences of Colin Blunstone. Shaw carries the lead vocals on this piece. Those vocals are filled with energy and are better suited for his vocal range at this stage of his career. Once again, the strength of this album is the duet’s singing, phrasing and beautifully blended harmonies which are filled with feeling and resolve.  The guitar solos are precise and give the song a harder rock sound than the Zombies’ version.
Your Move
The enthusiastic Yes fan will find the instrumental variation refreshing on this first movement of “I’ve Seen All Good People” from the Yes Album. This lyrical roundabout regarding a chess game makes for another great vocal performance for Shaw. The keyboard performance turned in by Jack Blades is reminiscent of the full church organ sound that Wakeman ends the piece with when he performs it. The intricate guitar work by both Blades and Shaw is a fitting tribute to Steve Howe’s talent and career. Let’s give peace a chance.

I Am A Rock
Take one part Art Garfunkel, two parts Paul Simon, mix with two cups of coffee and a dash of Tabasco. Shaw and Blades revisit one 1966’s top of the chart hits by Simon & Garfunkel in a hard rocking fashion. The staple of this CD is the crisp and clean vocal work. Nothing is surprising on this track with the exception of the strong drive.
Lucky Man
Like most cover songs, after a first listen one is typically left feeling that the artist either improved on a theme, the original was better or (as in the recent case of Blondie’s rendition of the Doors classic, “Riders On the Storm”) “God, I don’t know what to think.” The latter is the case with this version of ELP’s “Lucky Man.”

Jack Blades gives a Greg Lake style vocal performance, Shaw harmonizes the original over-track vocals, the guitar and drum work is identical to the original. Although some songs on this CD are almost identical to the originals, on “Lucky Man” they wanted to try something different but it didn’t work. The Keith Emerson synthesizer solo is played on electric guitar and is horribly lacking.
The Sound of Silence
Shaw and Blades revisit another Simon & Garfunkel classic, written by Paul Simon. This one was a #1 hit on the charts in 1966 and is associated with the 1968 film, “The Graduate” which was nominated for 7 academy awards. Bass, drums, keyboards are used on this song giving it the full sound like the original. The vocals on “Sound…” are probably the strongest of any song on the CD. Ultimately, Shaw and Blades did this song straight up with little variation.
California Dreaming
Blades and Shaw both recorded the lead vocal track and the harmonized backing vocals that come with the Mamas and the Papa’s delightful 60’s hit. Kudos are given for following “The Sound of Silence” with another song containing full instrumentation. There is a slick guitar solo in the middle of the tune and they did a great job making all the vocal tracks sound like the original quartet of singers.
On A Carousel
Here is an electric version of another 60’s hit by The Hollies with Shaw singing lead. It’s just another straight ahead rock hit on the CD.
Dirty Work
One of my favorite Steely Dan tracks from the band’s debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, this version doesn’t vary from the original at all, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’d be curious to hear the outtakes of their studio work on this song because I’m sure they tried different variations of the piece without satisfaction. The tune has a wonderfully rich sounding acoustic guitar solo in the middle, typical of most rock numbers from this era. This is another standout on this CD.
For What It's Worth
Another 1966 hit song was selected by the duo, this time Stephen Stills’ government protest song when he was a band member of Buffalo Springfield. In his prime, Stephen Stills wrote and rocked with the best of his contemporaries. Jack Blades sings with a “Still-esque throaty growl,” hits the high notes at the finish and duels nicely with Shaw on guitar. Without a doubt, everyone could debate which is the best track on the CD but this would always be number two.
Dance With Me
As a writer, I’m asked to be impartial in my reviews and I feel like I do a good job of that. However, when it comes to ABBA, I am at a complete loss for what to say about their music. Guys, you have “cajones grande” to finish the album with this one!

 
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